On the date of 6th October 1927 people who were lucky enough got to watch the very first talking movie ever made in the New York’s Warners’ Theatre . The Jazz Singer was actually a silent film, however they managed to successfully synchronise the music with the image. Warner Brothers company was awarded an Honorary Oscar for their input in the development of film technology.
"Audiovisual analysis must rely on words, and so we must take words seriously. Why say 'a sound' when we can say 'crackling' or 'rumbling' or 'tremolo.' Using more exact words allows us to confront and compare perceptions and to make progress in pinpointing and defining them."
Source: Film: A Critical Introduction (Maria Pramaggiore, Tom Wallis)
When sound first appeared in cinema it caused some serious troubles for filmmakers, as well as for the actors. Some of the famous actors, who were previously well appreciated in films, mainly thanks to their visual distinguishing features and facial expression, turned out not to be suitable for the screen anymore. As far as voice, diction and pronunciation were concerned many great actors started to receive criticism on their acting. In order to observe the confusion, that appeared on set of many productions, Stanley Donen together with Gene Kelly, mocking the transition to sound, they created one of the most famous musicals of all times, Singin' in the Rain (1952). This brilliant comedy presets a story of how filmmakers struggled with sound techniques. The amusing scene of Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) practicing her part perfectly reveals how unnerving the process of shooting a film suddenly became.
ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S 'BLACKMAIL'
Not only were actors and technicians affected by the appearing of sound in cinema, but some great directors as well. The best example is a master, Alfred Hitchcock himself. In 1929 he started working on one of his silent productions Blackmail. However, according to the fact that sound in cinema became popular, he was told by British International Pictures to convert it into a sound movie. At first, when the director heard this proposal, he considered it to be a complete absurd. Which is why, he decided to make two versions of the film instead. One entirely silent, for cinemas not yet equipped for sound and the second one, in which the opening six and a half minutes and some later scenes remained silent. Both versions still exist in the British Film Institute collection.
"I think what sound brought of value to the cinema was to complete the realism of the image on the screen. It made everyone in the audience deaf mutes."
Source: Sound: Hitchcock’s Third Dimension
Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail (1929) is a thriller drama film based on the play by Charles Bennett. It is considered to be the first British 'talkie'. Although the sound in Blackmail is rather poor, the master proves that he knows how to properly make a proper use of it. Throughout the use of sound Hitchcock manages to build suspense, what he so far used to create with pictures only. Blackmail is a story about a girl, Alice White, who decided to take a walk after she had a fight with her boyfriend. She bumps into some stranger man, who invites her to his apartment. The painter promised to paint a portrait of her, although he turns out to be a cheater. As he attempts to rape the girl, in her defendse, she kills the man and escapes. Unfortunately, there was a witness to the whole situation. After the accident the girl was stricken with remorse and keeps feeling anxious. The director wisely let the audience get inside the girl’s head through the use of sound. He puts an emphasis on these sounds that can be particularly annoying and uses repetitions of the worlds connoting the crime, such as "the knife". In one of the previous scenes he uses the cage with an extremely noisy bird to show the remorseful feeling inside the girl’s head. Hitchcock thoughtfully operates with the sound to create the feeling of fear. Thanks to this artistic measure we can put ourselves in the main character's shoes, as we're hearing the exactly same sounds as her, which are rather unrealistic. We can, therefore, understand what she's going through.
Hitchcock was never a firm believer in the use of dialogue in his films. As he creates mostly psychological thrillers, his characters are usually involved in some mysterious stories and keep secrets from one another. Which is why, he cannot present them properly to the audience through a dialogue. We can only discover their secrets by getting inside their heads and knowing their thoughts. Before the sound appeared the director communicated with the audience only through images. At first, he was against conversing his film into a sound one. However, he proved again how his genius techniques works for the advantage of the story. In his next films, he never focused on a dialogue, as well. This part remained useless and unimportant. It's the visual techniques and character's facial expression, that make Hitchcock's movies so incredible.
“When we tell a story in cinema, we should resort to dialogue only when it’s impossible to do otherwise…”
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